The golden age of combustion ended 15 years ago
It's time we stop holding onto the past
Throughout history, there are tales of empires rising and empires falling. Golden eras come and go and there's always a sense of people longing for the past. The old days, when things were so much better and life seemed to be more civilised. It's the old tale of the fall of the Roman Empire and the descent into the Dark Ages, a story that's as old as time. That story is now being transferred into the world of cars as we see constant pressure for us to step away from the internal combustion engine and into a new era of electric mobility. People are lamenting the demise of the venerable ICE and casting their fury upon the new generation of electric vehicles, claiming that they aren't proper cars or should be consigned to the graveyard for the rest of time. They'd rather watch the world burn that own or drive an EV.
The problem is, that is exactly what is happening to the world right now. It's burning. Temperatures are rising and some people are genuinely terrified about whether humanity will survive the next 100 years because of how alarming the climate predictions are. Tackling climate change has become the number 1 policy for people all across the political spectrum all over the world. Like it or not, our world is changing and cars need to change with it too. That, unfortunately for lovers of combustion engines, will mean that they won't be the preferred option anymore. That's not a bad thing though. In fact, it'll mean that we stop dragging out the life of the internal combustion engine.
In many ways, the fall of internal combustion is being treated much like the fall of Rome traditionally was. Influential historical writers like Bryan Ward-Perkins have historically lamented the death of Rome and reinforced the idea of the 'Dark Ages'. I think there is another way of looking at the dawn of electric mobility though and it's from the perspective of another great historical writer, Peter Brown. Peter Brown argues that the Dark Ages never actually were dark ages at all and society just transitioned away from the Roman Empire into something else that wasn't objectively better or worse. It was just another state of being. Another way of doing society. That is what I think about the future of cars. Cars will not get worse after ICE power is completely phased out from new cars. We are just merely moving from one automotive age to another and, just like the Renaissance period that happened in Europe long after the Roman Empire was no more, a new golden age of motoring will rise. A golden age powered by electricity, hydrogen and batteries, rather than petrol and diesel.
If we're being honest, the golden age of combustion has long since passed. Think about it. When was the last time a production car with a really fantastic engine came out? The Porsche Carrera GT with its racing-derived V10? The Bugatti Veyron with its monstrous quad-turbo W16? Both of those cars came out in the mid-00s and were in development even before then. Cars like the Porsche Carrera GT are already heralded as the last of the analogue supercars. Maybe they were also the last great combustion-engined cars? Ever since the mid-late 00s, combustion engines have grown bland, stale and uninspired. They don't even sound as good anymore. Compare the noise of a 996 or a 997 911 to its current-generation counterpart and the current-generation one sounds like a wet fart as opposed to the glorious boxer roar of a 996 or 997. Combustion engines have had to be neutered because of ever-tightening emissions and noise restrictions and development has stalled because everybody wants affordable EVs and wants them right now.
The result of all of this? It feels like the combustion engine is being dragged out into its twilight years like a TV series that should have ended years ago but the corporate heads want to keep going because it makes too much money for it to be worth cancelling (*cough* *cough* The Simpsons *cough*). Despite the best efforts by companies like Freevalve to futureproof the internal combustion engine with new technology, it looks like we haven't had a single wow moment in terms of engine technology since the era of cars like the aforementioned Porsche Carrera GT and Bugatti Veyron. The Bugatti Chiron uses exactly the same engine almost as the Veyron, just with some added modernity to keep it fresh and get more power out of it. We have never seen another Porsche with a screaming V10 like the Carrera GT. The most exciting Porsche you can buy right now, honestly, is the all-electric Tesla-slaying Taycan. Furthermore, our cars have been increasingly populated by awful synthetic noise that sounds like how a 1980s synthesizer would try to reproduce an exhaust note, creating noises that are more of an annoyance than an enhancement of the driving experience.
We can't stay in denial about what's going on anymore. In trying to keep the combustion engine alive, we've created the automotive equivalent of The Simpsons after almost all the main writers left and the jokes became boring, uninspired and just like every other TV 'comedy' show. In trying to preserve the combustion engine for as long as possible, we've made it lose its magic. We've made it lose its soul. That's more tragic than any perceived 'death' of internal combustion caused by the ever-increasing adoption of electric mobility. We loved something so much that we suffocated it instead of letting it burn out naturally after living its best life. It's kinder to the combustion engine to just let it die. Let it become a historical monument to times past, when V8s actually sounded like V8s, the world of Formula 1 and endurance racing was populated by screaming V10s and you always knew a Ferrari or a Lamborghini was coming around the corner when you heard a glorious, screaming Italian V12. Close the chapter. Let it be. Even Rome had to fall some day and so too will the internal combustion engine. Let's let it fall with grace and dignity, not in a suffocated, anaemic whimper.